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Transitioning In-Person Groups to Hybrid and Virtual Settings

Introduction

The global pandemic necessitated many in-person groups to suddenly adapt online. This accelerated shift revealed opportunities to complement physical gatherings with virtual participation options moving forward.

This guide explores transitioning in-person groups into hybrid and virtual settings. We will cover:

  • Benefits of offering digital participation beyond physical events
  • Capturing energy of in-person gatherings for remote attendees
  • Facilitating engaging small group conversations virtually
  • Optimizing hybrid events blending in-person and virtual
  • Technology platforms to enable interactive virtual gatherings
  • Tips for transitioning existing groups’ workflows online
  • Training facilitators and leaders to adapt material for digital
  • Building personal connections through virtual icebreakers
  • Hybrid and virtual event examples to learn from

By the end, you will have strategies to make virtual and hybrid participation compelling extensions of live group experiences. Let’s dive in!

Why Offer Virtual Participation?

Some benefits of enabling digital participation options:

Extends Reach

Remote options make groups accessible to more people unconstrained by geography.

Reduces Barriers

Virtual reduces barriers of travel cost and time for in-person events.

Enables Flexible Engagement

People can participate in their schedule without disrupting routines.

Creates New Ways to Interact

Unique virtual activities like polls, chats, and Q&A emerge.

Provides More Options

Greater variety of session types and group offerings to join.

Archives Institutional Knowledge

Recording events creates a searchable knowledge bank.

Unlocks New Revenue Streams

Paid virtual sessions, content and data monetize value.

Facilitates Ongoing Community

Virtual spaces sustain engagement between live gatherings.

Offering digital participation enables serving more members consistently.

Capturing In-Person Energy Virtually

Some techniques to recreate live energy virtually:

Leverage Multi-Camera Recording

Use multiple camera angles and picture-in-picture to approximate in-person viewpoint.

Guide Remote Participation

Prompt live attendees to engage remote participants in discussions.

Share Live Reactions

Display live remote attendee poll results, chats, and reactions onsite to sync engagement.

Spotlight Remote Participants

Project remote attendee video feeds onstage for recognition.

Recreate Hallway Conversations

Allot time for Zoom breakout rooms to enable networking.

Use Chat for Q&A and Feedback

Enable real-time remote conversation via chat channels.

Assign On-Site Ambassadors

Have someone onsite serve as virtual attendee liaison to raise questions and issues.

Though impossible to perfectly recreate live experiences remotely, these tactics integrate virtual participants more seamlessly.

Facilitating Engaging Small Group Discussions Virtually

Some best practices for virtual small group conversations:

Kick Off With a Warm Up

Fun icebreaker or prompt gets energy flowing.

Take Turns Going Around

Give everyone a chance to contribute initial thoughts with a round robin.

Limit Cross-Talk

Gently redirect monopolizers and encourage quiet voices to join.

Probe Perspectives Deeper

Ask clarifying questions to extend conversational threads versus jumping between topics.

Manage Time Actively

Keep the conversation moving at a comfortable pace and wrap up on schedule.

Capture Shared Notes

Collect highlights, conclusions and action items before departing.

Follow Up Afterwards

Share session notes, resources, appreciations and follow ups via email.

Conscious facilitation enables substantive virtual small group conversations.

Optimizing Hybrid Events Blending In-Person and Virtual

Some best practices for effectively blending physical and virtual event participation:

  • Invest in solid equipment like multi-camera rigs and mics to production value
  • Facilitate activities for virtual and live attendees to interact like polls and breakouts
  • Monitor remote attendee chat and reactions to surface questions and feedback
  • Periodically spotlight and feature remote attendees onstage to link spaces
  • Compile in-person and virtual participants into unified leaderboards, raffles etc.
  • Schedule dedicated virtual networking sessions to enable connections
  • Test hybrid setup and components extensively beforehand to polish execution
  • Brief onsite speakers and facilitators on engaging virtual attendees
  • Limit live audience size to retain interactive vibrancy across both groups

With planning, hybrid events feel cohesive and energetic for all attendees.

Technology Platforms Enabling Interactive Virtual Gatherings

Some top tools for virtual groups and events include:

Zoom – Feature-rich video meeting platform. Extensive customization and reliability.

Hopin – Robust virtual event environment with expo areas, multiple stages and networking options.

vFairs – Customizable virtual event platform incorporating booths, Q&A, chat and gamification.

Run The World – Creative virtual spaces with avatars, spatial audio, and immersive interactions.

Grip – Unique virtual venue for hosting conferences, workshops and events with stage views.

Airmeet – All-in-one platform for highly configurable virtual events.

Remo – Web-based 2D virtual spaces with customizable avatars.

Teamflow – Simple meeting environments with creative facilitation tools like timers and voting.

Hivebrite – Community engagement platform great for networking and virtual community building.

The right platform provides the foundation for interactive, engaging experiences online.

Transitioning Existing Group Workflows and Curriculum Online

Some tips to move established programs to virtual settings:

  • Audit existing material and agenda identifying activities that will translate online versus needing adaptation
  • Poll group members to assess areas of greatest interest to prioritize translating digitally
  • Experiment with workflows in digital project management tools to find optimal virtual processes
  • Alternate meeting formats like pairing video conferences with collaborative documents to diversify engagement
  • Practice delivering existing presentations, workshops and training via video conference
  • Adjust session pacing and lengths initially to fit online attention span
  • Intersperse brain breaks like polls, chat discussions and stretching
  • Seek informal feedback after initial virtual sessions to identify areas for improvement

Blending existing approaches with digital best practices allows transitioning groups smoothly online.

Training Facilitators and Leaders for Digital Delivery

Some facilitation techniques to cover when training for virtual:

  • Making eye contact consistently with camera versus checking screen
  • Moderating equitable conversations using round robins and chat queues
  • Keeping energy high through positive tone, moving around, and vocal variety
  • Reading body language virtually scanning attendee video feeds
  • Preventing zoning out by directly addressing attendees, welcoming input
  • Proactively engaging less vocal participants through invitations and questioning
  • Providing additional signposting since nonverbal cues are obscured
  • Adding text reinforcements like chat comments and annotations

With preparation, facilitators can translate in-person dynamism into engaging virtual leadership.

Building Personal Connections Through Virtual Icebreakers

Some fun ways to break the ice with virtual groups:

  • Personal show and tell item shares
  • Two truths and a lie guessing games
  • Scavenger hunts for items around members’ homes
  • Virtual tours of workspaces and bookshelves
  • Recreating road trip games like I Spy bingo
  • Song lyric, movie quote or book line guessing
  • Customizable superlative awards
  • Costume dress up days
  • Co-creating music playlists
  • Drawing or photo contests

Lighthearted activities set a welcoming mood enabling relationships to form.

Notable Examples of Impactful Hybrid and Virtual Events

Here are some real-world examples of groups effectively transitioning online:

TED – Pivoted their flagship conference into a free virtual event attracting record viewership.

Adobe Summit – Their 20,000 person user conference shifted to a polished broadcast-quality virtual setting.

Lean Startup Conference – Rapidly took their collaborative workshops digital through interactive video breakouts.

National Speakers Association – This professional association moved member meetings to engaging virtual venues with breakout sessions.

HashiConf – This tech developer conference maintained their community online through collaborative tools like Slack channels and interactive boards.

Politicon – The non-partisan political event successfully brought provocative debates into a virtual arena.

Groups across contexts preserved member value digitally through creativity and commitment.

Key Takeaways

Some core strategies for virtual community building:

  • Use tools like cameras, chat and reactions to maintain interactive energy
  • Train facilitators to actively engage distributed groups
  • Blend collaboration documents and video meetings to vary participation
  • Take time to reproduce existing practices effectively digitally
  • Test technology thoroughly to ensure smooth user experiences
  • Add regular social activities to conversations to connect members

With care, groups can maintain relationship-building and compelling programming in virtual settings.

Conclusion

In summary, uncertain times have revealed opportunities for community resilience through hybrid approaches. While virtual experiences cannot perfectly replace in-person gatherings, they enable access and engagement for more members consistently when implemented thoughtfully. Approach online community spaces not as temporary surrogates but as permanent extensions of your community. Let technology remove barriers, not replace human connections. By combining the best of both physical and digital, communities can support members through whatever lies ahead.

By Dani Davis

Dani Davis is the pen name of the writer of this blog with more 15 years of constant experience in Content marketing and informatics product, e-commerce niche.

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